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Widespread testing still eludes Arizona as pressure to re-open intensifies

People are calling for doctors’ and nurses’ student loans to be forgiven to thank them for their work battling coronavirus
Posted at 10:25 PM, Apr 20, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-21 07:22:52-04

PHOENIX — Experts and epidemiologists say testing is imperative when it comes to combating the spread of COVID-19. But right now, Arizona is one of many states without widespread testing.

State leaders say the lack of testing can be attributed to the lack of swabs and other sample collection materials. The supplies are in high demand, so manufacturing is strained and the entire supply chain is overwhelmed. Furthermore, the hardest hit areas, like New York City, are being prioritized out of necessity.

"We need additional testing in Arizona," said Governor Ducey on April 14. "And every Governor wants more."

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"Across the country we continue to see a shortage of testing supplies, from swabs to reagents, and Arizona is no exception," said Dr. Cara Christ on April 7. Since Dr. Christ said that, daily testing has not really taken off.

According to state health department data, on April 1, 1,687 Arizonans were tested.

On April 20, the state reported 1,510 people were tested for COVID-19. The average number of daily tests since the state began sharing the data on March 29 is 1,934.

The tests are going to Arizonans like Bill O'Brien and Beverly Schwartz. Both are elderly, ill residents at Westchester Senior Living unit in Tempe.

They are now in the ICU after testing positive for coronavirus weeks after the facility was quarantined from visitors. Residents' families say staff was not wearing any PPE.

The assisted living facility told families over the weekend that COVID positive residents, who do not require hospitalization, are now being cared for inside the 16-person unit.

The facility cannot even test everyone because, "the county will approve testing only when a resident or employee has signs or symptoms."

Even Valley emergency rooms are sending symptomatic and sick people home without a test - rationing them exclusively for people admitted to the hospital.

"We must continue to prioritize testing of the most at-risk Arizonans and front line workers," said Dr. Christ, at the St. Luke's news conference on April 14.

"I want to open up as badly as anyone. I want to do it in the most responsible way," said Gov. Ducey.

Most health experts agree that re-opening responsibly means having widespread testing.

"Among the things that are important is to have enough testing available so that we can have accurate surveillance," said Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, with the Maricopa County Health Department.

Increased testing will likely decrease the number of positive cases as a percentage, which could lead to a quicker re-opening of businesses and the state's economy.

"One of the factors in order to move to the next phase is to basically see a decrease in the number of positive tests as a percentage of all tests taken," said Wendy Smith Reeve, former director of Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs. "So that helps us move to the next phase quicker than if we were not to increase our testing capability."